By Debbie James

A Clwyd dairy farm has reduced digital dermatitis in its 200-cow herd from up to a quarter of the herd requiring treatments each month to less than 1 per cent.

Once digital dermatitis is present in a herd it can be almost impossible to eradicate but the Done family have almost succeeded over a two-year period with a focused programme that includes ‘blitz treatments’.

This involves the identification and individual treatment of all cows with active or recurring digital dermatitis lesions at the same time.

The aim is to rapidly reduce infection levels in the environment and therefore the risk to uninfected cows.

The risk of flare-ups is then reduced through appropriate preventive measures, the main one being effective footbathing.

“This has been a massive success,’’ says Mike Done, who manages Asney Park Farm, an organic farm near Wrexham, with his sons, Matthew and Thomas.

“Towards the end of two years, digital dermatitis levels were below our target of one case per month per 100 cows.’’

The herd is now continually monitored to keep on top of the situation.

Working with their vet, Guy Tomlinson, of Daleside Farm Vets, the Done family began their campaign to stamp out digital dermatitis by weekly power washing the milking herd’s feet to identify cows with active lesions. These lesions were treated with oxytetracycline spray until the lesion had healed.

With grant funding, they also invested in an automated footbath.

The 3.7m long Hoofcount footbath is installed at the parlour exit and automatically empties and refills after 200 cows have walked through it.

“There is nothing easier than having to do nothing,” says Mike.

“The 2.5 per cent formalin, copper and zinc sulphate foot solution is sufficiently deep to cover the whole foot and the bath is long enough for each foot to be dunked at least two times.’’

Apart from any cows that were receiving antibiotic treatment for digital dermatitis lesions, the entire milking herd was put through the footbath four times a week and dry cows once weekly.

Lameness specialist Sara Pedersen, who initially inspired the Dones to introduce a strategic plan, admits digital dermatitis is a significant challenge for many dairy herds – but it doesn’t have to be.

“Where infection levels are high, footbathing alone won’t bring digital dermatitis under control,’’ she explains.

“Instead, a ‘blitz treatment’ is recommended where all cows with active lesions are treated simultaneously to bring infection pressure under control.

“It is then vital that this is followed up with an effective footbathing regime that not only prevents new infections, but crucially helps stop old lesions recurring.”

The four-point Blitz approach to controlling digital dermatitis:

IDENTIFY: Inspect clean feet to identify all active and recurring lesions

BLITZ TREAT: Treat all lesions simultaneously with a licensed topical antibiotic until lesions have healed – a thick black scab will have formed and the foot will no longer be painful)

PREVENT: Focus on footbathing protocols - frequency and design - and slurry management/hygiene to prevent new infections occurring and reactivation of old lesions

MONITOR: Inspect the whole herd every four weeks to monitor for new/recurring cases. If these occur, review footbathing protocols and hygiene.